from DSSResources.com

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                        DSS News
                 D. J. Power, Editor
           May 21, 2006 -- Vol. 7, No. 11

     A Free Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 
           approximately 1,700 Subscribers 

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         "Decision Support for Global Enterprises"
           Deadline Extended: Check ICDSS2007.org
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Featured:

* Ask Dan! What is Planners Lab? by Dan Power
* DSS Conferences
* What's New at DSSResources.COM
* DSS News Releases 

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           Check the interview with Jim Franklin,
       President of Decisioneering, at DSSResources.COM

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Ask Dan!

What is Planners Lab?

by Dan Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

Planners Lab is an innovative software product, a modern version of
IFPS, a new tool for teaching students financial modeling, AND a
promising tool for helping managers examine financial assumptions and
see the impact on results. Planners Lab is more precisely "a strategy
simulator with two primary components, namely, (1) an easy to learn
and use assumption description language (also called model-building
or planning language) and (2) intuitive and easy to use drag and drop
visualization. Decision makers can easily and on the fly 'play' with
assumptions and immediately experience the consequences of changes."

Long time readers may recall two Ask Dan! columns from Winter 2001
on IFPS. Hubert Deneault at Hydro-Quebec wanted a good replacement
for models built using IFPS. The software package called IFPS
(interactive financial planning system) was originally marketed by
EXECUCOM and then Comshare. The program died a quiet death in the
late 1990s. In 2001 there was not a good replacement that met
Deneault's requirements. That sorry state of affairs seems to be
changing.

IFPS was originally developed in the mid 1970's by Professor Gerald
R. Wagner and his students including Kirk Jones. Jerry pioneered
business planning software and was the principal designer of IFPS.
Planners Lab is Jerry Wagner's fifth start up company product. His
software design credits list now reads IFPS, VisionQuest, TeamBook,
WebIQ and Planners Lab.

Planners Lab is not currently available at Staples or Office Depot.
From my perspective Planners Lab is in advanced beta testing. So how
did I get a copy? I had heard rumors Jerry was working on a visual
financial planning DSS for almost 2 years and in September 2005 Jerry
emailed me "I have been working on a new piece of software for
modeling and planning." Our schedules didn't mesh in the fall, but in
April 2006 Jerry sent me another email "I'd like to give you an on
line demo of our software using GoToMeeting ... It is time to let old
IFPS customers know what is happening here and your newsletter might
just help." I quickly accepted. 

On May 3, 2006, Jerry used gotomeeting.com to provide me a personal
demonstration. I had a family emergency that cut the demonstration
short, but Jerry showed me the major features. He has since sent me
the Planners Lab Quick Start, an article discussing Planners Lab, and
a link so I could download a trial version. What follows is not a
software review, rather I'll summarize the capabilities of the
software and make a few comments on the user interface. Over the next
few months, I hope to find an occasion to try the product on a "real"
planning problem. If so, I'll write another Ask Dan! about that
experience.

One begins a Planners Lab session by creating or opening a model. If
an analyst or manager is creating a new planning model, the model
concept and design is the first hurdle. What do we want to better
understand? Are we interested in understanding our firm's business
model? Are we interested more narrowly in a profit and loss model?
Are we interested in developing a model for evaluation of construction
loan applications? We then need to break the model into useful
components or "small chunks". In Planners Lab each chunk is called a
node and the nodes are linked together in a hierarchical tree. Nodes
and variables are given descriptive names like "revenue" or "days
worked". The Planners Lab approach is to "modularize large complex
models into small understandable and manageable chunks. This is done
using a 'family' tree hierarchy." The interface is attractive and
intuitive.

After creating a model, a manager/user continues the "learning and
discovery process by visualizing results and asking what if and goal
seek questions." At the bottom of the screen is a button called
“Playground”. Clicking that button displays the icons for
chart styles. The user drags any chart style onto the stage (the main
window); clicks on nodes that contain variables s/he wishes to
display; and drags variables from those nodes onto a chart template.
To remove a chart, the user drags it off the stage. To remove a
variable from a chart the users drag it off the stage. To move a
variable from one chart to another, a user drags it from one to
the other. Multiple chart styles can be on the stage and can be used
to create an interactive planning dashboard for the situation.

Currently, Planners Lab has 9 chart types: Line Chart, Bar Chart,
Table, What If Line Chart, What If Bar Chart, Goal Seek Line Chart,
Goal Seek Bar Chart, Impact Chart, and Risk Analysis Chart. The What
If Chart feature is for making temporary changes in the model logic
and seeing the affect of those changes. What If "is for 'playing'
with different assumptions and visualizing the impact of such
changes." Goal seek asks the question "what does the value of one
variable need to be 'moved to' in order to achieve a desired goal
value in another variable?". The Impact feature asks the question
"what impact does X% change in a what if variable have upon a
goal variable?" The risk analysis feature is for quantifying
uncertainty.

The Planners Lab is designed so decision makers can easily simulate,
visualize and anticipate how their assumptions about the future will
influence future outcomes. The theme is "to rehearse the future at no
cost or risk. The philosophy is that if you can see it, you
can get it. The Planners Lab software combines simulation and
visualization. The intuitive visualization interface allows the end
user to test and understand assumptions about the future before
committing to a decision, strategy or course of action."

According to Jerry, "The Planners Lab is one of the first major
business applications to use Macromedia FlashMX as its
interface development platform to support animated interaction. The
Planners Lab software is a starting point to achieve the vision that
business software should provide decision makers with engaging
experiences, such as are currently available in computer gaming. Just
as gamers receive immediate visual response to their actions, decision
makers should have comparable feedback experiences with software-based
strategy simulators."

What situations are appropriate for Planners Lab? My guess is that
as the product matures and evolves the possible applications domain
will expand. Also, because Planners Lab can be used with Excel and as
part of a Web-based DSS, those capabilities create many opportunities.
Currently, some advertised applications include "project proposals for
business expansion/retraction, benefits planning, product development,
analysis of initiatives in Balanced Scorecards, real estate
development, advertising campaigns, marketing strategy analysis,
sales strategy analysis, business plans, hiring strategies, make or
buy, acquisitions, mergers and risk assessment."

Downloading and installing the Planners Lab software was easy. We
did need to upgrade to Flash 8 Player. Planners Lab is also available
as an Enterprise Edition client server network enabled product, but I
haven't tried that version. 

Is it a good replacement for IFPS? Mr. Deneault's criteria included
a planning language, support for large models (1500 variables and
approximately 80 time periods), a more modern environment, "able to
talk to an OLAP application". Progress has been made. I'm also hoping
to see capabilities for building data input screens for model
variables (perhaps using Visual Basic in Excel) and designing reports
that can be exported as PDF documents with text and charts. 

Jerry and I will be attending CIDMDS 2006, the International
Conference on Creativity and Innovation in Decision Making and
Decision Support (http://www.ifip-dss.org), starting June 28, 2006 in
London. We're both on a panel on DSS and Design Science. Join us in
discussing innovative software for planning and decision support. I'm
hoping to get Jerry involved with ICDSS 2007(http://www.ICDSS2007.org)
in Calcutta Jan. 2-4, 2007. 

Campus-wide Planners Lab licenses are available to academic
institutions at no cost for teaching, research and administration.
For more information email: grwagner@mail.unomaha.edu. Also contact 
him to sign up for a live on-line Planners Lab tour. Jerry wants 
feedback and constructive suggestions to enhance Planners Lab. So 
please help him and the Planners Lab software design and development 
brain trust: Alex Bucevicius, Eric Goeken, Joe Crum, Miao Liu, and Ryan 
Phelan. 

Jerry notes that with Planners Lab "Decision makers can 'play' with
assumptions and immediately experience the consequences of changes."
I agree. Planners Lab can help managers understand their assumptions
about the future. Try it! You'll like it!

References

Alper, C., K. Brown and G R. Wagner, "New Software for Visualizing
the Past, Present and Future," White Paper. 

Planners Lab - Quick Start, GRW Studios, Inc.

Power, D., What is a good replacement for models built using IFPS?
DSS News, Vol. 2, No. 1, January 2, 2001.

Power, D., What is/was IFPS? DSS News, Vol. 2, No. 2, January 14,
2001.

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          Purchase Dan Power's DSS FAQ book 
     83 frequently asked questions about computerized DSS 
      http://dssresources.com/dssbookstore/power2005.html 

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DSS Conferences 

1. CIDMDS 2006, International Conference on Creativity and
Innovation in Decision Making and Decision Support 
sponsored by IFIP WG 8.3, June 28th - July 1st 2006, London,
UK. Check http://www.ifip-dss.org/ .

2. DEXA 2006, 17th International Conference on Database 
and Expert Systems Applications, September 4-8, 
2006, Krakow, Poland. Check http://www.dexa.org .

3. ICDSS 2007, 9th International Conference on DSS, Jan. 2-4, 2007, 
Calcutta, India. Theme: Decision Support for Global Enterprises.
Check http://www.ICDSS2007.org . Papers due May 31, 2006.

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What's New at DSSResources.COM

05/21/2006 Posted interview with Jim Franklin "Decision Support for
Simulation, Risk and Modeling". Check the interviews page.

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      Please tell your DSS friends about DSSResources.COM

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DSS News Releases - May 7, 2006 to May 19, 2006
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive

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anytime, anywhere access to patient information.

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retailers optimize store development initiatives.

 05/16/2006 SAP to power high-tech transformation at Lenovo.

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PC.

 05/15/2006 FAST and Cognos team to deliver enterprise business
intelligence through search.

 05/11/2006 Kalido founder, Andy Hayler, to discuss role of
enterprise data warehousing in achieving successful corporate
performance management at C-View Summit in Madrid, Spain.

 05/11/2006 MicroStrategy brings together business intelligence and
enterprise information integration.

 05/10/2006 Collaboration is back -- and it never left, says new
Aberdeen report.

 05/10/2006 Indus announces real-time performance management.

 05/10/2006 Microsoft unveils updated Center for Information Work
showcasing innovations for ultimate Office of the Future.

 05/09/2006 Microsoft previews Windows CE 6 operating system.

 05/08/2006 Success of Master Data Management systems contingent in
improved reconciliation of master data.

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